AdTech Reboot

Trust Web Times Interview Series: Doug MacDonald ; NJEDA

Marc Goldberg

Marc Goldberg

Author at The Trust Web Times
Marc Goldberg

Marc Goldberg

Author at The Trust Web Times

Marc Goldberg is a contributor for the Trust Web Times. Marc is also the Principal at Stages Collective. Stages Collective helps companies at different life stages in a variety of ways. Business Development, go-to market strategies, Landscape analysis and as an additional recruiting resource.

Doug MacDonald  is the Economic Development — Tech Sector Lead of New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA)

We exchanged emails for this interview and it has been slightly condensed and edited.

Marc Goldberg :Tell us about your journey.

Doug MacDonald: I graduated from Berklee College of Music in ‘91 (Alto Sax / Flute) with a laser focus on a career in jingle writing and composition. Then, my wife and I found out we were becoming proud parents of twins (our 3rd kid came 3 years later). So, as George Thorogood said, I had to, “Get a haircut and get a real job.” Fortunately, I grew up in a family of successful media execs, so I had access to a great network for job hunting. I spent the 90s in magazine ad sales, early 2000s in B2B digital media (which is when we met), then moved into Ad Tech in 2009 working with mobile ad networks and SaaS firms like Adap.tv, finally consulting & repping several start-ups in TV analytics and data.

MG: That’s a long time in 1 industry. What prompted you to pursue something different?

DM: I have yet to find an industry as dynamic as the digital advertising marketplace. But if you are in it long enough, you see how Ad Tech tries to disintermediate transactions, and in doing so creates its own complexity. This happens over and over. So, after nearly 30 years I was ready for a change and decided to pursue something that enables me to give back. I began to pursue opportunities in Clean Energy and Clean Tech, which led me to NJEDA, where they were recruiting for a Technology Sector Lead, which seemed to align with my background. After 3 months of interviewing, I was up and running. And yes, I still break out my horn for the occasional jam session or just for fun.

MG: This is interesting! We not only have shared industry experience, but I am also from NJ (GLEN ROCK!). What is your new role?

 DM: In essence it’s a sales position, but rather than chasing down revenue, I am advocating for Tier 1, 2, & 3 technology companies in NJ by bringing forward financial tools and incentives to help these companies grow and create high paying jobs. The Tech Sector Lead is part of NJEDA’s Sector Development Group which includes 9 industry verticals inherent to NJ’s business ecosystem – Technology, Logistics & Transportation, Film & Digital Media, Clean Energy & Off-Shore Wind, Advanced Manufacturing, Pharma/Life Sciences, Financial & Professional Services, and Non-Retail Food and Beverage – all of which are illustrated in Governor Murphy’s 2018 Economic Development Plan: The State of Innovation: Building a Stronger and Fairer Economy in New Jersey.

MG: With the pandemic changing…well everything. The work at home movement has allowed folks to move around. The proximity to NYC has now created an influx of talent here in NJ. Have you seen an increase in businesses?

DM: The short answer is “yes!” NJ companies are growing, and new ones are “coming in hot.” NJ’s position in the N.E. Corridor, bustling business ecosystems, diverse talent pool, and varied communities for employees, all serve as great incentives. For example – In the film industry, Lionsgate is opening a $125M film and TV studio in Newark. In Off-Shore Wind, Orsted has set up shop in Salem County and is building a HUGE manufacturing facility. Transportation & Logistics: Israel’s Port of Ashdod and NJCU signed a Letter of Intent to strengthen innovation and workforce development. And In the Tech Sector, things are booming in eSports, Online Gaming, CyberSec & FinTech, IT, hardware manufacturing, and most exciting to me – Venture Funding and Tech Start-ups.

MG: How are NJ Technology Companies dealing with the “Return to Office” thing going forward?

DM: Some companies are mandating a return to office 3-4 days/week. Others are taking a softer approach by hiring architects and interior designers to create brand new, state-of-the-art office environments, while all are competing to attract talent. There is a real tug-of-war going on between job seekers who want to continue 100% remote work and CEOs who want to build and cultivate teams in their offices. I personally believe this is short lived and job seekers will eventually give up their demands and rejoin the office environment, at least in a blended fashion.

MG: You mentioned competing for talent. What are NJ companies doing to attract new hires?

DM: Honestly, the issue goes far beyond offering the usual perks, like unlimited snacks and unlimited PTO. The bigger issue is the size of the talent pool. We are so fortunate to have world-class engineering Universities in NJ, like Rutgers, Steven’s Institute, NJIT, NJCU, and Stockton University, to name a few, all producing world-class graduates. There’s just not enough of them to meet the demand. That’s why NJEDA has joined forces with our University and Private Sector partners to open Innovation Centers across many of our Sectors throughout the state. In Tech, this November I’m hosting a Roundtable for approximately 20 Sr. Execs plus Academic Leaders to gather, share pain points, best practices, and brainstorm solutions. (If any of your readers fit the profile and would like to learn more, they can email me at dmacdonald@njeda.com). Suffice to say, Workforce Development is one of our top priorities.

MG: What’s the opportunity for VCs and Tech Start-ups in NJ? Why should they look there, as opposed to say, NYC, Boston, or even places like Austin, TX?

DM: Again, the Tech Sector is booming here for a variety of reasons. In addition to those mentioned, The State offers a variety of incentives to promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for women and minority-owned businesses, along with incentives for setting up shop in “opportunity zones”. For example, downtown Newark is the new Hot Spot for VCs and tech start-ups. The amount of construction that is happening here is amazing. It also happens to be the home of Audible (which is one of the most unique office environments I have ever visited.) Companies of all sizes that move into new communities have a positive economic impact through hiring local workers and shopping locally.

MG: So, like what? Give me an example.

DM: We are super excited about a new program that just launched called NJ Innovation Evergreen Fund, a partnership with the private sector that will raise and invest funds in New Jersey-based companies. The funds are raised by allowing large NJ companies with tax liabilities to bid via auction for a discount on their taxes. The money raised from the auction is placed into a fund, at which point we invite VC’s to apply to become a $1:$1 match partner and administer investing the funds in NJ start-ups on a deal by deal basis. The companies who are pre-paying their taxes not only get a discount but can demonstrate their corporate citizenship by supporting the innovation ecosystem in NJ, and those start-ups, through strategic commitments, such as coaching and mentoring, donating unused office space and or equipment…the opportunities are numerous. This program is a win-win-win!”

MG: Jets or Giants fan and why?

Big Blue All the Way!!! Growing up our dad, who worked for Hoffmann-La Roche on Rt 3 in Clifton, “owned” 6 (company issued) season-tickets at GIANTS Stadium: 42-yard line, 22nd row, behind the Giants bench. (LOL) We had better seats than (Pres. Richard) Nixon who sat 10 rows behind us. I witnessed the most miserable football in the 70s, some of the best in the 80s, and everything in between in the 90s. I’ve earned my Blue Stripes. Go GMen!!!

MG:Bruce or Jon Bon? –

DM: Puh-leez. No disrespect to Bon Jovi who has been a great ambassador for NJ (despite the whole 80s hair-metal thing), but I’ve been a horn player since the 3rd grade and Clarence will always be a god to me. His nephew, who tours with them now, is also a beast. #TheBoss.

MG: Snookie or the Situation? Neither is an acceptable answer. I love the Jersey shore and they basically ruined the perception of it. Are you a shore guy?

DM: Regarding Snookie and the crew, the answer is “Neither.” If you haven’t watched South Park’s take on them, you should. It’s painful for us, but hopefully it shames any & all TV creators from ever doing a show like that again. The (real) Jersey shore is a big part of my DNA. For decades our family had a house in Stone Harbor which our parents sold in 2001 (I’m still bitter). But that enabled me to discover and frequent “The Irish Riviera,” aka Spring Lake / Sea Girt / Manasquan, even though that now makes me a “shoobie” or a “bennie.”

MG: I am at exit 160 on the GSP.  Where is a good place for us to meet and you to buy me dinner?

DM: I am at exit 139B. However, NJ State Ethics rules mandate that NJ State employees can neither buy someone a meal, drink, or gift, nor receive one. That said, I think we should go Dutch-Treat for our bromance, date-night at the JAMES GANDOLFINI SERVICE AREA, (GSP between exits 171 and 172 in Bergen County.) It’s a bit-of-a-hike for me but, you’re worth it 😉

MG: Dutch It Is!

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